If you have eczema, you’ve likely been dealing with it since childhood. The redness, swelling, itching, dryness, crusting, flaking, blistering, cracking, oozing, and/or bleeding that accompanies eczema typically crops up in childhood or infancy and can be a life long struggle. I have a few clients with eczema, some so severe that the itching interferes with sleep and even social engagements. Conventional medicine may tell you there is no “cure” for eczema, but it is possible to heal eczema or improve your symptoms, beginning by healing from the inside out. Forget all the topical creams and steroids you’ve been given– those don’t address the underlying cause.
Scientists are fairly sure the primary cause is a genetic issue, but we’re largely unsure what exactly causes eczema. The important point to understand is that it’s an autoimmune disease, meaning the immune system is over-firing and misfiring, mistaking its own tissue for perceived pathogens and attacking itself. It can be worsened with exposure to environmental factors such as pollen or pet dander/fur, and/or internal factors such as irregular stress hormone (cortisol) levels.
This excellent article by the Paleo Mom explains that eczema results from structural defects in the epidermis, causing “impaired barrier function”. Essentially, abnormalities in the skin make it more permeable to toxins and antigens, which then causes an exaggerated immune response. This sounds a lot like leaky gut. Once the barrier function of the skin is disrupted, various substances (like toxins, allergens, antigens; basically anything that the immune system views as a foreign invader) can “leak” in from the outside and this is what activates the immune response.
Not surprisingly, the program I recommend for addressing eczema is a lot like the program to heal leaky gut, because both calm an overactive immune system. The goal in treating autoimmune disease is to determine what’s causing the immune overactivity and reducing systemic inflammation (another driving factor in auto immune disease). It starts with food!
First off, the following foods may exacerbate eczema because many people cannot properly digest the proteins, causing an allergy reaction and an immune response:
• Milk (cow’s)
• Wheat, gluten
• Corn and other grains
Step 1 is to remove these foods from the diet for 30 days (follow an autoimmune paleo type plan) and then add them back in, one at a time, to determine if they cause a reaction or flare-up. This is an allergy elimination diet. During the 30 day healing phase, clean up your environment: get rid of toxic cleaning products (click here to learn how to make your own) and cosmetics.
Step 2 is to begin taking the following supplements during your 30 day food elimination period:
• Vitamin D, 5,000 – 10,000 IUs. I like Vitamin D Supreme from Designs for Health
• Fermented cod liver oil for essential fatty acids and vitamins A & D, great for skin and immune health. I use Blue Ice.
• Take a probiotic (try Dr. Ohirra) and consider glutamine to heal the gut lining, especially if you have digestive issues like gas, bloating, or heartburn.
• Take a digestive enzyme to help break down food.
• Drink licorice tea. It’s soothing to the body and healing for the digestive tract.
Step 3 is to apply coconut oil to the skin (it may help) and make sure you get plenty of good fats: besides coconut oil (both internally and externally), use olive oil, ghee, avocado, and omega 3 rich foods like salmon and walnuts.
Also consider adding in gelatin-rich bone broth to soothe and heal the gut lining.
Most importantly, address your stress levels. High cortisol exacerbates inflammation both in the digestive tract and throughout the body. Consider an adrenal stress index saliva test to measure cortisol irregularities. I use these tests frequently in my practice.